As a kid, I was somewhat familiar with what an eating disorder is. I had heard of them by probably the age of six or seven. Did I ever consider the fact that I could develop one? Well of course not! I never gave eating disorders much thought. If I worried about something devastating happening to me it would be dying in a car crash or my parents getting killed, not developing anorexia.
The earliest educator for me on eating disorders came from my favorite TV show growing up, the classic Full House. There is an episode in season four where DJ Tanner, the oldest of the Tanner daughters, develops an eating disorder. By the end of the episode she is back to normal. Yup, the whole process of an eating disorder and recovery in 22 minutes. Nope, that is not how it works. But as I kid watching this, I never really questioned it.
The other thing that sticks out for me growing up was how my dad told me that the Olsen twins, who played Michelle Tanner, had eating disorders. He said it in a condescending way, so I knew that it was a bad thing from then on. An eating disorder meant you had gone off the deep end and were not respectable. (I still loved the Olsen twins’ shows though!)
It wasn’t until I got to middle school that I had a more formal education on eating disorders. But that being said, I still did not really understand them. I thought having an eating disorder meant you didn’t eat anything. I had no idea that there were lots of different variations an eating disorder could take. This was only further reinforced when I took health again sophomore year of high school. We watched a movie of an anorexic woman whose family was seeking an intervention. She was an extreme case and reinforced this stereotypical idea of what an anorexic is.
It was not until I was diagnosed myself that I actually became much more educated on eating disorders and began to understand them better. Eating disorders come in all forms. No eating disorder is identical. What is a fear food for me, might not be for someone else. I never had symptoms of bulimia, but many other people do. Binge eating is a common eating disorder that is often over looked. And the real issue with eating disorders, which a lot of people do not understand, is that they go much deeper than food. The issues with food stem from somewhere else. For me it was from not feeling good enough and lacking control over my hectic life. For the next ED survivor, it could be because of sexual abuse or fat shaming or any other issue that person has faced.
But my point here is that I didn’t know any of this until I faced it myself. I had to actively seek out information on EDs. It is out there, but not mainstream. And the little that is mainstream can be quite disappointing, such as the Full House episode that does not accurately depict the struggles and longevity of an eating disorder. A more modern example is how Meghan Trainor said she isn’t “strong enough” to have an eating disorder. No, that’s not how it works. Having an eating disorder is not a choice. What made me strong is not the fact that I had anorexia, but that I sought out recovery and have stuck with it for over a year now. And thankfully Demi Lovato called Meghan Trainor out for what she said. Lovato has been an important public figure who has spoken out about her mental health struggles, including her eating disorder. We need more people like her to step up and talk about what is really at stake when someone develops an eating disorder.
For the number of people in the US who have eating disorders (20 million women and 10 million men) there is a serious lack of funding going towards the research and education on eating disorders. EDs have the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses. We need better research and education on these life-threatening illnesses. I want this to change in the future. People need to understand EDs better. I am happy that no one has ever told me I should have stayed anorexic. At least most people understand that EDs are serious. But there still is a lack of accurate knowledge being presented in mainstream American culture. I hope the work I am doing has already started to dispel some of the myths about EDs and that I can continue to do so. It is only by having a better understanding of EDs that we can EnD ED!
P.S. This article does an awesome job at describing common myths about eating disorders! Please read if you’d like to know more about how EDs affect all types of people in all types of ways.